By T.J. Stallbaumer
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark, — The Razorback Greenway is a cyclist’s paradise. Winding through the entirety of Northwest Arkansas, this little ribbon of road is accessible only to cyclists and pedestrians, making it a safe haven for walking and riding.
But better than being safe from motorists is being in close proximity to extraordinary beer.
And that, my friends, is what is afforded by the Fayetteville Ale Trail — a series of Northwest Arkansas breweries each easily accessible via the Razorback Greenway. Not only does the ride give a glimpse into the culture and amazing options afforded by the microbrewery boom, but it also gives a glimpse into the parts of Northwest Arkansas most worth seeing.
My trip on the Ale Trail began on a pleasantly mild September morning. It’s important that you begin this ride with enough time to do the whole thing, which may seem obvious, but be sure to account for how long it could take you to do a 30- to 60-mile ride with stops for beer and food scattered throughout.
The Fayetteville Visitor’s Center has done a stellar job making this ride approachable for beer lovers of all skill levels.
You can pick up your very own passport for the trail, which is as much a keepsake item as it is a record of your dominance of local beers. The Ale Trail Passport can be found on fayettevillealetrail.com, and is a cool way of keeping track of where you’ve been — and where you still have to go.
I took a partially modified route since I knew I wouldn’t have time to make it all the way to Downtown Rogers and back — which should be considered a great tragedy indeed because I missed drinking an Ozark APA from the source.
Anyway, the itinerary I laid out began in Fayetteville, and took its farthest point for a first beer. I got on the Razorback Greenway in the middle of Fayetteville and headed north toward Springdale.
The greenway shines throughout Fayetteville, especially heading this direction. Speaking generally, the greenway maintains a pretty low grade most of the time, though no ride in Northwest Arkansas will be without hills.
What makes the bike trail so special in Fayetteville is the way it manages to feel like a top 10-motorcycle road at the same time it feels like a nature walk. The trail, though maintaining a convenient proximity to roadways, manages to be pretty well hidden with nature. There are several parts of the trail on the way to Springdale where trees have grown over the top of the trail, shading the rider even in full sun.
Once you’ve gone almost halfway around Lake Fayetteville, it becomes time to look for the first turn of your tour. Follow the signage at the split, and keep heading north into Springdale.
The trail becomes a little less pretty once you get into Springdale, but that doesn’t mean it loses all its merits. You’ll be riding through several residential areas as well as through some major intersections in the town, so please be cautious—just because you’re on the bicycle trail and there is a sign does not mean people will yield for you.
Make your way through Springdale, and find the first stop of this abridged Ale Trail at the Core Public House. This stop is easy to find, since it’s directly on the Greenway and attached to the Phat Tire Bike Shop.
This whole stop is wonderful, because it puts the rider right in the middle of the newly-renovated Walter Turnbow Park, which has some cool green space in case you have any beer averse riders who feel like exploring.
I actually arrived at Core too early in the day to have a beer, which is another important, but it worked out OK because I was able to enjoy an iced mocha at Trailside Coffee Co. while I looked at bike accessories inside Phat Tire.
They stock some really nice racks there if you’re looking for carrying capacity, and they also have some super cool old-school brass bells in case you don’t have a way of warning walkers that you’re about to be on their left.
As a general piece of trail riding advice, please get a bell. You, the cyclist, make all of us look better when you have a nice, bright sounding bell attached to your bike. It’s infinitely more charming to kindly ‘ding’ someone than it is to come up behind them and weaze through “on your left,” which can hardly ever help but sound aggressive. Just get a bell, and watch how many more friends you make.
After leaving stop number one, I would advise heading just down the road to Black Apple Crossing Cidery, which is located at 321 E. Emma Ave. This place is super cool, as well as infinitely refreshing.
The building is neat, and features a stellar patio space as well, not to mention the libations. Black Apple is a rare place among local breweries because it offers ciders instead of beers. Brewed right here in Arkansas, these refreshing beverages are totally drinkable but without being overbearingly sweet. My personal favorite is the 1904 — it has the perfect blend of sweet and sour, and is a great middle of the ride light option.
After you head out from Black Apple Crossing, it’s time to get back on the trail to re-enter Fayetteville. Head back south until you come to the original split you made from the Lake Fayetteville Trail. This time, you’ll want to go left, to keep continuing around Lake Fayetteville. At your emergence on the other end of the Lake Fayetteville Trail, you’ll find yourself at Apple Blossom Brewing Company, a full-service brewery and restaurant not to be mistaken with Black Apple Crossing, which you just left.
At Apple Blossom, I was able to sample several of the most popular beers. I began by trying the aptly-named Fayetteweisse, a nice light brew that was refreshing but didn’t quite have enough going on for my taste.
So I made the move to the Armstrong APA. At 6.3 percent alcohol and 54 IBU, this APA packed a bit of a punch, with bold flavor but a surprising drinkability. Finally, I tried the Morning Star Session IPA, which was my favorite Apple Blossom brew. At 5 percent alcohol and around 32 IBU, this brew has a stellar citrus note to it with a smooth finish, that doesn’t ever get underwhelming. I thought it was almost perfectly hoppy, and beyond that, 5 percent of the profits from the sales of the beer go to the Morning Star Wildlife and Rehabilitation Center, which is a great cause for drinking!
After I hit Apple Blossom, my map got a little wonky. I made a short detour into downtown Fayetteville, where I picked up a friend, then headed to Columbus House Brewery.
Columbus House has the bike theme down, and is located directly across from Fayetteville’s Funky Yard Sale, another one of the town’s gems.
At Columbus House, I tried the Yellow Card Golden Ale, which came highly recommended. At almost 6 percent alcohol, I consider this beer infinitely drinkable with a light finish but strong mid-notes. It’s possible that I like beer too much to really accurately review it, but it’s also possible that local breweries just do a great job of their craft.
Finally, I finished the ride at Fossil Cove. Full disclosure here, Fossil Cove is one of my favorite places even when I’m not specifically reviewing bikes and beer. They offer free bike tune-ups (courtesy of the Fayetteville Phat Tire guys) on Thursdays, but they also have some of the best brews in the Natural State.
The IPA Number 3, the Paleo Ale and the LaBrea Brown all deserve the rider’s immediate attention.
I think the most important part of reviewing the wonderful ride that is the Ale Trail is trying to impart a sense of the time it takes. I hit on it in the beginning, but if you plan on having an enjoyable day on the Ale Trail, it is super important that you build in time to enjoy the ride — and the beer.
By the time Fossil Cove was in the rearview, I had ridden around 30 miles and had around six or seven beers — in the name of journalism. And let me be clear, that even in excellent shape, a day full of riding and beer drinking will take it out of you!
Map my Ride suggests I burned 1,500 calories in 5 hours. According to the website Beer of Tomorrow, the average micro-brew beer is going to sit at around 200 calories, which is great news for the Ale Trail. That means you should be able to make the whole ride and stay in the net “calories burned” column, even if you have more than one brew.
A summation of the Ale Trail is a difficult thing to provide. It’s a unique ride, because it includes a ton of distance, but it’s also designed to be fun. So it ends as this beautiful, beer-filled workout that puts the natural beauty in Northwest Arkansas on display in a unique way.
Ride your bike. Drink beer.
Total distance 35 miles
Calories Burned 1,500
Elevation Change 1,063 feet
Total time 5 hours 58 minutes
Average Speed 6 mph
Top Speed 28 mph